The Edward Barnsley Trust

Location: England

Subject: Art & Design and Architecture

Dates: 1994-2009

Related ACE Cultural Tours:


To train master craftsmen in the making of furniture that follows the Arts & Crafts ideals of having “fitness for purpose and pleasure in use”.

Project History

The Edward Barnsley Workshop is unparalleled in forming part of a direct, unbroken line with the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century. Edward Barnsley (1900-1987) began his career as a pupil in Geoffrey Lupton’s workshop in Froxfield in 1919, whilst his father Sidney Barnsley, his uncle Ernest Barnsley, and their friend Ernest Gimson, were key members of the original Arts and Crafts movement. Edward himself was heavily influenced by John Ruskin, William Morris and William Lethaby, and dedicated his life to making furniture that was designed to have “Fitness for purpose and pleasure in use”. He took over the workshop of Geoffrey Lupton in the mid 1920s, in which, to this day, Barnsley furniture continues to be designed and made. The Arts and Crafts movement, in general, and William Morris, in particular, have deservedly been the subjects of exhibitions, books and learned articles, but we must not forget that the story is far from over. At the workshop in Froxfield a marriage of art, craft and philosophy can be found that continues to build on a cultural movement of international significance.

In 1980, Edward Barnsley’s failing health led to concern for the future of the workshop, for which he had made no arrangements. Edward had been a pupil at Bedales and, later, with Geoffrey Lupton, built the wonderful Arts & Crafts library at the school. It was therefore fitting that one of the founding trustees of the Edward Barnsley Educational Trust was Mary Medd, acclaimed school architect and former Bedales pupil. The trust was registered as a charity in 1980 to ensure continuity by initiating and financing a programme of training of apprentices. The trust continues to run the workshop, which remains one of the leading makers of craftsman-made furniture in the country. The apprentices work alongside, and are taught by, experienced craftsmen making the high quality furniture for which the workshop is renowned.

The trust also maintains the adjacent cottage, where Edward and Tania Barnsley once lived, which houses an important archive containing several thousands of Edward’s drawings. The cottage has been renovated and visitors can view a display of Barnsley furniture, including the large oak dresser designed and made by Sidney Barnsley in 1898, that was featured in the V&A International Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 2005.

Project & ACE

From 1994 ACE has sponsored the apprenticeship scheme, not only keeping this wonderful tradition alive but, equally important, developing skills for the future. Two of our apprentices deserve special mention. In 1997, ACE sponsored James Ryan to spend six months at the Carl Malmsten School in Stockholm, one of three furniture schools in Sweden. Whilst the craftsmanship at the Barnsley Workshop is unequalled, we were keen for apprentices to benefit from international experience, particularly in Scandinavia, which has its own highly developed tradition of furniture making and design. James found the experience very beneficial, both personally and professionally, and highlighted the well equipped workshops, the standard of teaching and the quality of work. Impressed by his skill and enthusiasm, the Barnsley Workshop employed James as a master craftsman following the completion of his apprenticeship. He is now Designer and Manager, creating his own body of work whilst maintaining Edward Barnsley’s vision:
“If I can add to the richness of life a few things which give real joy in use and to the eyes, then I am happy enough.”

ACE continues to support the apprenticeship scheme and recent alumnus Gary Tuddenham has been recognised as one of the finest craftsmen in the world, winning the 2007 final of the WorldSkills tournament in Tokyo.